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Full text of "Address of President Wilson delivered at Mount Vernon July 4, 1918"

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JULY 4 , 1918 




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JUL 23 1918 

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Gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps and My Fellow Citizens: 
I am happy to draw apart with you to this quiet place of old counsel 
in order to speak a little of the meaning of this day of our nation's 
independence. The place seems very still and remote. It is as serene 
and untouched by the hurry of the world as it was in those great days 
long ago when General Washington was here and held leisurely con- 
ference with the men who were to be associated with him in the 
creation of a nation. From these gentle slopes they looked out upon 
the world and saw it whole, saw it with the light of the future upon 
it, saw it with modern eyes that turned away from a past Avhich men 
of liberated spirits could no longer endure. It is for that reason that 
we cannot feel, even here, in the immediate presence of this sacred 
tomb, that this is a place of death. It was a place of achievement. A 
great promise that was meant for all mankind was here given plan 
and reality. The associations by which we are here surrounded are 
the inspiriting associations of that noble death which is only a glori- 
ous consummation. From this green hillside we also ought to be able 
to see with comprehending eyes the world that lies about us and 
should conceive aneAv the purposes that must set men free. 

It is significant, — significant of their own character and purpose 
and of the influences they were setting afoot, — that Washington and 
his associates, like the barons at Runnymede, spoke and acted, not for 
a class, but for a people. It has been left for us to see to it that it 
shall be understood that they spoke and acted, not for a single people 
only, but for all mankind. They were thinking, not of themselves 
and of the material interests which centred in the little groups of 
landholders and merchants and men of affairs with whom they were 
accustomed to act, in Virginia and the colonies to the north and south 
of her, but of a people which wished to be done with classes and spe- 
cial interests and the authority of men whom they had not themselves 
chosen to rule over them. They entertained no private purpose, de- 
sired no peculiar privilege. They were consciously planning that men 
of every class should be free and America a place to which men out of 
every nation might resort who wished to share with them the rights 
and privileges of free men. And we take our cue from them, — do we 
not? We intend what they intended. We here in America believe 
our participation in this present war to be only the fruitage of what 
they planted. Our case differs from theirs only in this, that it is our 

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inestimable privilege to concert with men out of every nation what 
shall make not only the liberties of America secure but the liberties 
of every other people as well. We are happy in the thought that we 
are permitted to do what they would have done had they been in our 
place. There must now be settled once for all what was settled for 
America in the great age upon whose inspiration we draw to-day. 
This is surely a fitting place from which calmly to look out upon our 
task, that we may fortify our spirits for its accomplishment. And 
this is the appropriate place from which to avow, alike to the friends 
who look on and to the friends with whom we have the happiness to 
be associated in action, the faith and purpose with which we act. 

This, then, is our conception of the great struggle in which we are 
engaged. The plot is written plain upon every scene and every act 
of the supreme tragedy. On the one hand stand the peoples of the 
world, — not only the peoples actually engaged, but many others 
also who suffer under mastery but cannot act; peoples of many 
races and in every part of the world, — the people of stricken Russia 
still, among the rest, though they are for the moment unorganized 
and helpless. Opposed to them, masters of many armies, stand an 
isolated, friendless group of governments who speak no common 
purpose but only selfish ambitions of their own by which none can 
profit but themselves, and whose peoples are fuel in their hands; 
governments which fear their people and yet are for the time their 
sovereign lords, making every choice for them and disposing of their 
lives and fortunes as they will, as well as of the lives and fortunes of 
every people who fall under their power, — governments clothed with 
the strange trappings and the primitive authority of an age that is 
altogether alien and hostile to our own. The Past and the Present 
are in deadly grapple and the peoples of the world are being done 
to death between them. 

There can be but one issue. The settlement must be final. There 
can be no compromise. No halfway decision would be tolerable. No 
halfway decision is conceivable. These are the ends for which the 
associated peoples of the world are fighting and which must be con- 
ceded them before there can be peace: i 

I. The destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere that can 
separately, secretly, and of its single choice disturb the peace of the 
world ; or, if it cannot be presently destroyed, at the least its reduc- 
tion to virtual impotence. 

II. The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of 
sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or of political relationship, 
upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people 
immediately concerned, and not upon the basis of the material in- 
terest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a 

different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or 

III. The consent of all nations to be governed in their conduct 
towards each other by the same principles of honour and of respect 
for the common law of civilized society that govern the individual 
citizens of all modern states in their relations with one another; to 
the end that all promises and covenants may be sacredly observed, no 
private plots or conspiracies hatched, no selfish injuries wrought with 
impunity, and a mutual trust established upon the handsome founda- 
tion of a mutual respect for right. 

IV. The establishment of an organization of peace which shall 
make it certain that the combined power of free nations will check 
every invasion of right and serve to make peace and justice the more 
secure by affording a definite tribunal of opinion to which all must 
submit and by which every international readjustment that cannot 
be amicably agreed upon by the peoples directly concerned shall be 

These great objects can be put into a single sentence. What we 
seek is the reign of law, based upon the consent of the governed and 
sustained by the organized opinion of mankind. 

These great ends can not be achieved by debating and seeking to 
reconcile and accommodate what statesmen may wish, with their 
projects for*balances of power and of national opportunity. They 
can be realized only by the determination of what the thinking 
peoples of the world desire, with their longing hope for justice and 
for social freedom and opportunity. 

I can fancy that the air of this place carries the accents of such 
principles with a peculiar kindness. Here were started forces which 
the great nation against which they were primarily directed at first 
regarded as a revolt against its rightful authority but which it 
lias long since seen to have been a step in the liberation of its own 
people as well as of the people of the United States; and I stand 
here now to speak, — speak proudly and with confident hope, — of the 
spread of this revolt, this liberation, to the great stage of the world 
itself ! The blinded rulers of Prussia have roused forces they knew 
little of, — forces which, once roused, can never be crushed to earth 
again; for they have at their heart an inspiration and a purpose 
which are deathless and of the very stuff of triumph ! 


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